Lawn and Garden Equipment
Americans are obsessed with their lawns. Each year, Americans spend billions of dollars seeking green perfection, using gas-powered lawn mowers, gas-powered leaf blowers, weed whackers, and hedge trimmers. In many neighborhoods (especially on the weekends), there is a constant roar from all this lawn car activity.
All of this lawn and garden equipment is very noisy. Gas-powered lawn mowers range from 82 to 90 decibels. Gas-powered leaf blowers make 80 to 92 decibels of racket. Weed whackers make 96 decibels of noise. Hedge trimmers can blast away at 103 decibels.
Leaf blowers are everywhere! It seems like you can’t walk past a yard, park, sidewalk, flowerbed, parking lot, plaza, golf course, street, alley, or tennis court without hearing one of these snout-nosed noisemakers. After rainfalls, some people even use them to dry their lawns.
Some gas station employees use leaf blowers to chase down a single cigarette butt. Leaf blowers have been used to clean windshields in a used car lot.
The goal of all this noisy activity? To track down and destroy Public Enemy #1: the leaf.
The irritating, high-pitched whine of these turbo gadgets sounds like dental drills gone berserk. Exposure to 80 to 92 decibels of noise for two hours can cause hearing damage. Leaf blower noise is particularly irritating because of its pitch, the changing amplitude, and the hearer’s lack of control.
Gas-powered leaf blowers are the most detestable power tools ever invented. They blare and screech and kick up dirt and dust. They accomplish nothing.
But leaf blowers do plenty of damage. They spread animal droppings, herbicides, and pesticides into the air. They create as much tailpipe emissions in one hour as a car does over 350 miles. They pump 1800 tons of carcinogenic compounds into Los Angeles every year. In 1990, the EPA estimated that gas-powered lawn equipment was responsible for five percent of the nation’s ozone-harming pollutants. You know there’s something wrong when a piece of equipment requires its users to wear ear protectors, goggles, and a mask.
Winifred Rosen, who works with Dr. Andrew Weil, states that “leaf blowers literally scour the earth: stripping off topsoil, desiccating roots, ad killing vital soil-dwelling organisms, while, at the same time, propelling into the air clouds of dirt, dust, and dangerous contaminants: volatile compounds, mold, and fungal spores, weed seeds, insect eggs, and pollen. Molecules of the myriads of toxic chemicals people spray and sprinkle on their gardens, trees, and lawns, not to mention bird and rodent feces, and more.”
And leaf blowers are mighty unneighborly. Their grating roar can be heard from half a mile away. They stir up a fine dust that can coat porches and windowsills up to a block away. They blow leaves onto neighbors’ lawns–only to have them blow back 30 seconds later.
Leaf blowers are the most egregious, the most loathsome, the most needless form of pollution from the noise bullies.
While rakes create no noise, leaf blowers irritate neighbors, generate CO2 emissions, and threaten public health. And what do they accomplish? Nothing. Instead of collecting dirt and leaves, they simply blow them around. Leaf blowers are “inappropriate technology,” as defined by E.F. Schumacher in his book, Small Is Beautiful.
Leaf blowers also illustrate the irrationality of “efficiency.”
Professional gardeners argue that they’d have to charge more if they couldn’t use blowers, because their work would take longer. This logic suggests that price is the only consideration. What good is efficiency if it disturbs the quality of life? As a society, we pay more for cars to make them safer and to reduce emissions. Many people are willing to pay more for healthier foods. Some are willing to spend to support local merchants instead of global corporations.
Most people would prefer to enjoy a New England autumn without the stress of leaf blowers, but gardening interests are better organized. The leaf blower industry employs a full-time lobbyist who travels the country attempting to quiet anti-blower legislative activity.
Journalist Art Carey suggests that “all leaf blowers should come with a free sweatshirt and bumper sticker proclaiming: ‘I have the IQ of a cinderblock. I own a leaf blower.'”
And has anyone noticed that virtually all leaf blower users are men? Maybe it’s because leaf blowers exhibit the worst stereotypical male characteristics: they’re loud, they’re rude, they’re aggressive, and they’re inconsiderate.
Despite the prevalence of leaf blowers and other noisy lawn and garden equipment, there is reason for hope. Quiet Communities and the Leaf Blower Study Committee in Lincoln, Massachusetts report that a number of municipalities around the nation have enacted year-round bans, gas-powered bans, or hourly restrictions on leaf blowers.
The following communities have year-round bans on leaf blowers:
The following communities ban gas-powered leaf blowers:
The following communities place hourly restrictions on leaf blowers:
New York City
Every homeowner and single-family resident has the power to choose whether to make excessive noise in lawn care. Individuals committed to peace and quiet have the following options:
1. Use a “reel mower.” It’s great exercise, it gets the job done, and it’s very quiet.
2. Use a rake and a broom. These also provide great exercise, get the job done, and create almost no noise.
3. Use a battery-operated lawn mower.
4. Use a lawn car service committed to quieter equipment:
There are a number of organizations working to reduce noise from gas-powered lawn and garden equipment, including:
-The American Green Zone Alliance “facilitates the use of clean, quieter, gas-free, sustainable equipment for the landscape maintenance industry. AGZA achieves this goal through green zoning. The American Green Zone Alliance is the accreditation/ certification authority for eco-friendly landscape maintenance practices. We have researched, refined, and perfected operational guidelines that take a more intelligent and sustainable approach to residential and commercial landscape maintenance.”
The AGZA certification program educates and trains “educational facilities, municipalities, commercial landscape companies, high-volume residential maintenance workers, and homeowners.” AGZA provides education and training in the “the use and promotion of sophisticated cordless electric technology for property maintenance equipment—which takes the place of their harmful two-stroke oil and gasoline counterparts.”
The nation’s first “green zone” was recently created in South Pasadena, California. Noise Free America: A Coalition to Promote Quiet strongly supports all the noise-reduction efforts of the American Green Zone Alliance.
– Ecological Landscaping Alliance: a national alliance of landscape contractors, architects, designers, and educators which advocates for responsible stewardship in horticultural and landscaping practices.
– NOFA Organic Land Care Program: this organization offers a 30-hour training course on organic agriculture, which over 500 accredited organic land care professionals have taken.
– Perfect Earth Project: this is a non-profit organization which promotes toxin-free lawn care management.
– Quiet Communities, an advocacy and educational organization which promotes quiet lawn-car equipment and leaf-blower bans.
It is time for people to put away their noise machines, get out their rakes and brooms, and stop disturbing their neighbors. It is time for noisy lawn and garden equipment to be silenced.